Voter-challenge errors mount
When they challenged the registrations of 1,944 voters before the Nov. 8 election, King County Republican leaders said all were registered...
Seattle Times staff reporter
When they challenged the registrations of 1,944 voters before the Nov. 8 election, King County Republican leaders said all were registered illegally at addresses that are private mailbox businesses or storage complexes.
So why did the GOP challenge Jeffrey Weber and Lisa Christoffersen? They're registered to vote at their West Seattle bungalow.
Here's the likely explanation: Weber and Christoffersen live at 2311 45th Ave. S.W. There's a UPS Store — the kind of business Republicans were targeting — at 2311 N. 45th St. Same house number, same street number, but across town in Wallingford.
"I figured it must be something like that," Weber said Tuesday. "I don't think that excuses it. ... I still think it's outrageous."
More Republican mistakes are surfacing as King County elections officials prepare to decide whether to count ballots cast in last week's election by voters challenged by the GOP.
Most of the challenges appear to be valid. But some who have been challenged in error are howling.
On Monday the elections office announced the Canvassing Board would hold hearings Thursday on the first 48 challenges. Twelve of the 48 were withdrawn later that day by Lori Sotelo, the senior county Republican vice chairman. That's on top of 140 she withdrew days before the election and 76 duplicate names the elections office says it has discovered on the GOP's list.
A Seattle Times review has found more errors among the challenges, including:
• Voters caught in the same kind of address mix-up that ensnared Weber and Christoffersen.
• Voters who live in apartments or houses on the premises of the storage complexes they manage.
• Voters who are registered at their home addresses, but have their ballots and other elections-office mail sent to private mailboxes.
The challenge to Raymond Doyle's registration was one of the 12 the GOP withdrew Monday, but he's still angry. "I want that woman in jail — I'm that upset about it," Doyle said of Sotelo, who signed each challenge.
Doyle lives and is registered to vote at the Kent storage complex he manages. While he usually isn't a party-line voter, he said, he voted against all Republican candidates Nov. 8.
Most of the voters whose registrations the GOP has challenged do, indeed, appear to have listed private mailbox businesses as their residential addresses, which state law forbids. That's what people should be focusing on, Republican Party state Chairman Chris Vance repeated Tuesday.
It points out continuing problems in the elections office, he said. "They [angry voters] should be shaking their fingers at [elections director] Dean Logan and [County Executive] Ron Sims."
Vance said Sotelo and other King County GOP officials now are reviewing each challenge "with a fine-tooth comb," and expect to withdraw more. There won't be many, he added — 40 tops. "The vast majority of our research has proven to be accurate," Vance said.
More pending challenges
But county Democratic Chairwoman Susan Sheary said the GOP had threatened the civil rights of the voters it challenged mistakenly. "Why didn't they go through it with a fine-tooth comb before the fact?" she said.
She said Democrats are attempting to contact each voter scheduled for a hearing before the Canvassing Board on Thursday, to offer help.
An attorney for county Democrats sent a letter to Logan on Monday arguing that all remaining challenges should be thrown out because Republicans hadn't provided all the information or used the forms that state law requires. But Logan has decided the challenges will proceed, elections spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said.
She said hearings on 168 more challenged ballots will be held Monday and Tuesday of next week. The registrations of challenged voters who didn't cast ballots in this month's election will be reviewed after the election is certified Nov. 29.
The office doesn't know how many of the challenged voters voted, Egan added.
An arm of the county Republican Party called the Voter Registration Integrity Project filed the challenges Oct. 26. Logan sent letters to affected voters Nov. 1, informing them of the challenges and telling them their votes in the Nov. 8 election would be treated as "challenged ballots" and reviewed by the Canvassing Board.
In response, Egan said, 116 voters transferred their registrations to residential addresses before the election.
In each letter, Logan also included a copy of the challenge itself, in which Sotelo attested "under penalty of perjury" that she had "personal knowledge" that the voter didn't reside at the address at which he or she is registered.
In numerous instances, she was wrong.
The GOP challenged the registration of Dennis Meyer, whose North Seattle home has the same house and street numbers as a storage complex in Burien. Meyer said Tuesday that it took him 30 minutes to vote at his polling place last week because of the confusion.
"It's been a darn imposition," he said. "They're [Republicans] not making any friends."
Republicans also challenged the registrations of Harvey and Nancy Hart, who live at the Federal Way storage complex they manage. Harvey Hart said that when he received Logan's letter informing him of the challenge, his first reaction was, "Why vote anymore?"
He said he called the offices of the governor and secretary of state to express his displeasure. Almost all the storage complexes in King County have resident managers, he said.
Anger over mistakes
The challenges to the Harts and Meyer were among the 12 that Sotelo withdrew Monday. But other apparently mistaken challenges remain, including those of Weber and Christoffersen, the West Seattle couple, and five voters registered at an apartment building on 12th Avenue West on Queen Anne. Its address has the same numbers as a Shurgard Storage complex on 12th Avenue on Capitol Hill.
Also challenged: two voters registered at a house on Fourth Avenue West on Queen Anne that has the same numbers as the address of a UPS Store on Fourth Avenue in downtown Seattle.
The GOP also has not withdrawn its challenge of Thomas Karston, who says he lives at the Kenmore home where he is registered to vote. His is one of the 36 challenges still scheduled to be heard Thursday.
"I had to go through all kinds of special procedures at the polling booth," Karston said. "I do find it a little troubling that anyone can challenge anyone else's registration without any basis."
"We will learn from this"
Vance acknowledged Tuesday that Republican volunteers had not been thorough in screening for on-site storage-complex managers. He also said that, while the GOP had prepared its list by comparing the street addresses of voters with those of private mailbox businesses and storage complexes, its database expert had not compared cities or geographic designations.
One example: Republicans challenged, then withdrew, the registrations of 46 voters at the Watermarke apartments at 320 Cedar Street in Seattle's Belltown. There's a storage complex at 320 Cedar Avenue in Forks, Clallam County.
Vance apologized to voters who were challenged mistakenly, but he said Republicans plan to challenge more registrations next year in an ongoing campaign to clean up the voter rolls. "We will learn from this," he said.
That didn't satisfy Weber. "I think that, at a minimum, they had to have a basis for forcing us to defend our votes," he said, "and they clearly didn't have one."
Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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